Unfortunately, there are times when beehives do not survive, and this can occur for a variety of reasons. It might be that a new colony has not had enough food to make it through the winter months, or that the hive has had an infestation of mites that has not been spotted and treated early enough. If this is the case, you may be wondering what to do with a dead beehive? Can it be reused or do you have to get rid of it. The good news for you if you are still interested in beekeeping is that a dead hive can be reused after a little bit of cleaning.
Determine the Cause of the Dead Hive
The first thing to do upon noticing that your colony is dead is to try to establish the reason it happened. If you notice that the hive has died over the winter months, then it is highly likely that there was not enough food. A telltale sign that lack of food was the cause is bees stuck in cells with their back ends up. This indicates that the bees were trying their hardest to get every last bit of honey from the cell before they eventually died.
Sadly, this often occurs in beehives that are new; the mistake is often on the part of the beekeeper taking too much honey from the hive. It is better to leave honey stores for the bees in the first year. Your bees will be busy building comb and trying to store honey to feed the brood. It is highly unlikely that they will make surplus honey in the first year. If you take too much, you could leave them starving over the winter months and they might not survive.
Extreme temperatures in the first year can also affect the chances of survival in a new hive. Unless your bees have had a chance to grow a large population, they might not be able to create sufficient warmth to keep them alive if the temperatures drop too low.
Too much moisture is another problem for bees and if this has caused the death of your hive, you will likely see spots of mold on the combs. If the weather in your area is particularly damp, it might be worthwhile using a quilt box in future as this will absorb any excess moisture.
Mites are also a common killer of beehives, particularly the Varroa mite. Varroa mites tend to affect beehives more often during late summer or early fall. If you see bees that have deformed or missing wings, it is a common sign of a Varroa infestation. Varroa mites feed on the body fluids of both adult and developing bees, which then causes deformities and weakens the bees. If this infestation is not treated, it can lead to the death of the hive.
How to Deal with a Dead Beehive
Whether or not you can use the honey left in a dead beehive will depend on how quickly you have found the hive. If you have found the dead hive very quickly, you can usually eat clean honey that has not fermented – provided the hive has not been treated with chemicals for mites. Some beekeepers will choose to freeze the entire frame of honey with the intention of feeding this to a new colony.
However, if there is a lot of damage in the hive, the honeycombs may not be reusable. If there is damage from wax moths (that tend to thrive on weakened or dead hives), you will need to scrape away the old comb and replace with new wax foundation.
When it comes to cleaning out the hive, it is best to avoid using any chemical products. You will need to scrape away mold, old comb, and any other debris that you find. Some beekeepers prefer to use a light bleach solution to wash the entire box down; if you do this, it is important to allow it to fully dry in the sun before using it again.
Reusing Your Old Hive
Once your hive has been thoroughly cleaned, you can start again if you wish. Some beekeepers will purchase bees for their hive, while others will try to attract swarms to their hive. Whichever way you choose to reuse your old hive, it is important that you learn from past mistakes. Regular checks of your hive for problems with mites and disease is important. Spotting infestations quickly will allow you to deal with them and prevent the death of another hive.
Remember, your bees need access to honey for their survival so avoid taking honey from the hive in the first year. This will ensure that they have enough to get them through the winter months when they are unable to forage and produce more.